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Academy Xi Blog

Student Spotlight: Sylvia Xu Connor

By Academy Xi

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Seeking a new lifestyle and a fresh challenge, Sylvia left the fashion industry and entered the exciting world of UX UI Design.

After 15 years as a Fashion Designer, Sylvia retrained with Academy Xi and landed a Senior UX UI Designer role within a week of graduating. Read about Sylvia’s UX UI Design: Transform course experience, her fast start in the industry, and how she’s helping more Academy Xi graduates into design roles.

What led you to a career in UX UI Design?

I realised after the first lockdown that I didn’t want to go back to my old work routine, which meant commuting five days a week to physically be in a fashion studio. It was tiring and I have young kids who didn’t see me enough. I had skills that allowed me to work remotely, so I started casually searching for work-from-home design jobs.

It took about a month to discover this new term – UX UI Design. I was really intrigued by the concept, but UX UI is digitally-focused. I come from a more traditionally creative background, with lots of big personalities discussing branding, graphics, patterns and colours, and I needed to be sure UX UI was a good fit for me. At that point, I did what I do best – a tonne of research!

The more I found out about UX UI, the more I realised its principles completely aligned with how I approach design, which is 50% problem solving and 50% how well you can solve those problems by your grasp on tools. By that stage, I was fully committed to switching to a career as a UX UI Designer.

Why did you choose to study UX UI Design with Academy Xi?

I looked into all the course providers that offered UX UI Design, from short bootcamps to master degrees as I already have a UTS Bachelor of Design degree. I am extremely time poor so needed to be job ready in as little time as possible while fully leveraging my past experience in the design industry. I narrowed my search to two providers who could transform my career very quickly; Academy Xi and General Assembly.

Academy Xi had a more competitive price. Plus, the course advisors were super friendly and took time to answer all my questions. If I was unsure at any point, they encouraged me to do my own research. It was a big investment of time and money, so it was important to get honest advice without any pushiness.

After five months of weighing-up my options, I decided that if the course advisors were giving such a personal service, that was a positive sign for the course itself. Eventually, I settled on the Academy Xi UX UI Design: Transform course.

What were your first impressions of the course?

I did a lot of research and knew what to expect from UX UI before the course started. I wanted to push myself from the outset, because I knew I’d get back what I put in.

It was serendipity that the whole three months of the Transform course coincided with the entire Sydney covid lockdown period. I felt like I was in a time capsule of intense learning and delivering results. As a mature student who hasn’t done any studying since finishing my bachelor’s degree 17 years ago, it’s important to have a lot of attention and guidance. The course mentor, Hayden Peters, gave the cohort everything we needed and more. He always made himself available online outside of classes to answer our questions, or give that love and support when the course content became challenging.

All the students were blown away by Hayden - his commitment to everyone in the cohort went above and beyond what you would expect from a mentor. He did everything he possibly could to help us understand the value of UX UI and the best ways to apply it professionally.

Sylvia Xu Connor

The first personal project was a bit like learning to ride a bike. I pedalled really fast and got to grips with the UX UI Design process by making mistakes. During the first phase of the course, Hayden and my coursemates were my only stakeholders, so I had a safe space to experiment in. I made all my mistakes early, which gave me the experience I needed to really nail the live client projects.

Can you tell us about the live client projects?

The first client project was for Endeavour X. Endeavour X is a subsidiary of Endeavour Group and owns a number of the big drink sellers, like BMS and Jimmy Brings. With the border closures, Endeavour X had a shortage of talent to hire from. There’s not much awareness of what Endeavour X does, so the project became a branding exercise. We had to do a lot of UX research and design a website that would enable them to attract and retain the best staff, creating chemistry throughout the company.

Take a look at Sylvia and her team’s client project with EndeavourX

The second client project was all about improving a chatbot for Dan Murphy’s. They have an existing chatbot, but it really only provides basic information about stores and opening hours. Our final design made the chatbot a more informative and engaging experience, helping deliver traffic to the existing website. Both Endeavour X and Dan Murphy’s were really happy with the designs the teams came up with.

How did you find working with the other people in your cohort?

I really cherished developing relationships with the other students. The course finished in October last year and we’re still in touch to this day. Some of the cohort based in Melbourne came to Sydney for the Christmas holidays and a bunch of us met up. Without the course, I never would have met so many great people.

We had a shared journey, a bit like pilgrims, and graduated with a collective experience that we can hold on to for the rest of our lives. We were all equals and could share our thoughts and feelings. As well as Hayden, we learnt from each other. Completing the client projects as teams really brought us closer together – that’s when we pooled our skills and really bonded.

How did you find the experience of learning online?

There’s nobody looking over your shoulder and pushing you to work. I think once you’ve broken that barrier and realised you need to motivate yourself, it’s very straightforward. The course is clearly laid out, so you can log in, see the modules in advance and work through everything systematically. There’s an independence that comes with online learning, and you’ll need it to get by in the professional world.

Learning online also enabled us to work on the projects at times that suited our schedules. Some of us were night owls and worked together into the night, while others were more active in the day. I completed the course while my kids were homeschooling and couldn’t start until 10am, but my coursemates were really accommodating. Collectively, we made it work.

If we were physically in a classroom, we wouldn’t have had that level of flexibility. Even though we were online, we stayed connected and worked together like a well-oiled machine.

Sylvia Xu Connor

How did you go from graduation to landing your new role?

I graduated in October on the same day as my daughter’s birthday. I had to tell her “I’m in a meeting, we’ll celebrate when Mummy finishes”!

My objective throughout the course had always been to get a new job, so I worked hard to grasp the skills, develop my portfolio and be job-ready. I immediately started applying for positions and the client projects were so valuable when it came to interviews. Rather than just saying “this is what I can do”, I was able to demonstrate my skills very concretely.

Within a week of finishing the course, I got a couple of job offers.

Sylvia Xu Connor

I didn’t expect to get hired so quickly, but looking back, I realise that I put myself in a strong position. I had all my ducks in a row.

Now, I’m working for Symbio, a big tech-telco company as a Senior UX UI Designer. I was the first ever UX UI staff member in a company of about 400 people. They brought me on board to speak for UX UI throughout the organisation, so it’s a big step for me and the business.

My plan for the next six months is to get a foothold in the company, raise an understanding of why UX UI is important by adding value to the business and to build a team that can deliver on UX UI objectives. I started with a blank slate, which means I’m having to set the benchmark, which is straight up my alley because my whole life is about setting benchmarks, and also a reason why I’ve achieved so much in so little time.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been tasked with a project that hasn’t moved very far in the months before I started. The company does a lot of business in Australia and New Zealand, but wants to expand into APAC. To make that possible, they need a portal that allows customers to self-serve. The head of digital decided they couldn’t go any further with the project without having UX eyes on it, which is one of the main reasons they hired me.

As well as the portal itself, I applied UX to the situation. I quickly realised the project could benefit greatly from having more meaningful dialogue between the internal staff and the overseas developers. I decided to bring everybody together in virtual meetings to get them collaborating more closely. Anyone facilitating online workshops needs to know how to get the most out of the tools and platforms, which is something I could offer straight away because of my experience with Academy Xi.

Now, the project is now fully up and running again. The company is really impressed with what one UX UI Designer can achieve, which is giving me the traction to put a UX UI team together. I recently hired some of the Academy Xi UX UI Design: Transform graduates, because I know first-hand how well prepared they are for working in the field.

What else have you done to stay involved with the Academy Xi tribe?

Hayden invited me back to give talks in his classes. I reassure the students that though the course can be challenging and they might be anxious about what’s to come, it does lead to great outcomes. I tell them if they put in the hard yards now, they’ll get to where they want to be in the long run.

Another ex-student, Diana Miller, spoke while I was studying. Diana now works for NAB and it gave me a sense of perspective to hear from someone who’d used the course to launch a successful career. I felt like I could offer that perspective to other students too.

Since giving the talks, I’ve received LinkedIn messages and offered all kinds of advice. One student received a job offer straight after graduating and, knowing I’d been in the same situation, called me to ask for my thoughts. I was more than happy to help her. It’s wonderful to still be part of the Academy Xi community. I’d like to help as many students as possible to follow that path into UX UI Design, because I know just how rewarding it can be.

Finally, would you recommend Academy XI?

Definitely! I have a few friends who are interested in other positions in the digital industry and I’ve sent them links to Academy Xi courses. I know a Project Manager and she wants to freshen-up her career. I’ve told her to jump into the digital space, take the Academy Xi Digital Project Management course and completely transform her skill-set.

If someone was interested in studying UX UI Design with Academy Xi specifically, I couldn’t recommend the course enough. I can say from experience that Academy Xi gives you the skills and mindset needed to make a big impact in the UX UI Design industry.

Team collaboration on design

Academy Xi Blog

Four types of design training – how to choose the best fit for a team

By Academy Xi

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Team collaboration on design

You know that good design leads to better team performance, enhanced creativity and a closer connection to your customer, but what is the best way for your team to learn its practises? There are a number of providers offering a range of design disciplines, including Human-Centred Design, UX Design, Design Thinking, Service Design, Customer Experience Design… Where is best to start?

We’ve pulled together a list of goals that we think a manager might be looking toward in order to help their team achieve and mapped these goals against our various learning experiences. Hopefully this will help you navigate some of the most effective digital design options currently available. 

For raising design awareness and building lasting confidence

 Good design principles can be applied in any team – but first we have to demystify them. Unfortunately, design often lives in a ‘black box’. Insider jargon and complex methodologies  can make it seem inaccessible. High functioning design doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, it works best when it is uncomplicated. If we strip it back, design is a vehicle through which creativity and innovation can be systematically nurtured. We know that when this is properly implemented, it will inevitably impact the bottom-line. According to a study conducted by Adobe, companies that foster creativity enjoy 1.5 times greater market share (2016, Adobe, ‘Design-Led Firms Win the Business Advantage’ report). Short introductory experiences can illustrate how good design can remedy static BAU thinking. With this in mind, we’ve developed a suite of intro courses and upskilling workshops designed to build lasting competence and confidence in foundational skills.
 
Matched learning experiences:

For tackling real business challenges and building technical capability

In pre-pandemic times Australia was already in the early stages of a digital skills crisis. The sudden halt imposed on skilled migration has led to shortages in certain roles (product managers, software developers, UXers and other digital specialists), particularly at a senior level. If and when you do manage to find people with the right talent, they often demand  very high salaries and can be poached by other companies trying to solve exactly the same problem.
 
Businesses undoubtedly need these kinds of digital experts to carry their growth strategies forward. When struggling to access the talent they need, they are often forced to be creative, cultivating their technical capabilities in-house. 
 
 Matched learning experiences:

For scaling and embedding organisational change

Many of the biggest challenges facing businesses are essentially design problems. Design maturity and digital maturity come when innovative ways of working take root and are used reflexively across an organisation. Every modern business has this forefront of mind. When done well, this looks like obsessive customer focus, creativity across business functions and  a collaborative ability to respond appropriately to rapidly evolving competitive environments. The impact of these kinds of agile organisational behaviours are consistently felt at the bottom-line level too. According to a recent McKinsey report, design-driven organisations outperform their competitors by 2:1 (2018, McKinsey & Co., ‘The Business Value of Design’ report). Having supported major corporates and government departments with their transformation programs, we’ve learned that the most successful approaches will incorporate everyone, from front-line staff through to executive teams. You want your people to excel instead of being left behind.
 
Matched learning experiences:

For addressing changing talent needs

Sometimes training your people in new design practices comes off the back of shifting priorities. These changes can impact hiring practices, development programs and talent management. Maybe Design Thinking is fast becoming an organisation-wide priority and you’d like every new-starter to receive foundational training so they are immediately brought up to speed. Perhaps a group needs to be deployed and their focus trained on digital design initiatives. Read our digital workforce transformation piece on how we developed the Australian Department of Health’s new team of digital leaders. 
 
Interviewed by the Harvard Business Review, former PepsiCO CEO Indra Nooyi claimed that design had a voice in nearly every crucial decision the company made while she was at the helm. The impact was enormous, as sales increased by 80% throughout her time in the role.  With these kinds of results, design in its various forms is here to stay. The question is, where is your organisation going to start?
 
Matched learning experiences:

 

Interested in learning more about how your team can harness good design and make great decisions? Get in touch to discuss how we can help you achieve your innovation goals.

Academy Xi Blog

Overcoming Design Challenges in Atlassian

By Academy Xi

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Atlassian is Australia’s largest and most successful technology company — the startup golden child that went from small-scale startup to global leader. In the past five years, Atlassian has experienced high growth rates, from two co-founders working off a single credit card to now boasting over 2,500 employees in Australia and around the world. Out of these 2,500 employees, 150 of them make up the design team.

For a company at such a size and scale, coordinating a design team of this magnitude has its fair share of challenges. Alex Riegelman is a Lead Designer at Atlassian and is responsible for solving complex user problems. Alex discussed with us his main design challenges at Atlassian and how the company is overcoming them through communication and, of course design.

Lessons Learned from Overcoming Design Challenges

Overcoming complex design challenges is not an easy feat. One major challenge that Alex faces on a daily basis is designing for stakeholders, not the end-user. “It’s that one step removed from design that has always been one of my big challenges,” admits Alex.

That one step removed is tackling communication and aligning the company and project vision within teams. Designing for stakeholder’s requires a different communication set as Alex must align design projects with both the team and external people who also have strong opinions and investment into the vision.

“This very approach to design is about creating experiences that have products themselves as the stakeholders,” says Alex.

With strong investment comes strong opinions and for a design project and a product to be successful, the design lead must take into account different perspectives and try to align that with both the company and stakeholder vision.

The design of any product at Atlassian must abide by the decisions made by both the product and design teams. Alex’s role encompasses more than just problem framing and solving, it also involves a lot of writing and communicating ideas and progress to different people, who have different views.

Communication needs to be a big part of Alex’s role because of the necessity of ensuring that design quality is maintained and the vision of designing for stakeholder’s is aligned. The clear articulation of decisions is vital because any changes made to the Atlassian platform affects its entire product suite.

Sometimes new product concepts can be quite abstract. So, to not only communicate these ideas with his team, but also to himself, Alex uses sketchnoting.

“I use sketchnoting to create a visual representation of some very abstract concepts that I’m trying to communicate, reveals Alex. “Sometimes I’d try to do that with words and stories, but sometimes I do that visually with diagrams and drawn scenarios.”

Sketchnoting is an underlying skill set that many designers have within them and some have not yet unleashed. Studies have shown that people who create simple and quick drawings have higher retention levels than people who simply write down their thoughts on paper.

Visual note-taking blends the two approaches by using a combination of words and sketches. These visuals enable the note-taker to listen, digest, capture, and share the essence of what’s being said. Ultimately, the art of visual note-taking helps communicate abstract ideas to internal and external teams, aligning them on the same vision and scope of the product.

———

Excited to learn how you can visually communicate better? Come to Sketchnoting: The Power of Visual Note-Taking and let Alex Riegleman teach you the foundational drawing skills that you can use in your very own sketchnote.

Academy Xi Blog

What exactly is Customer Centricity?

By Academy Xi

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Who owns Customer-Centricity (and why it’s a challenge for organisations to get right).

There are a number of debates happening inside organisations around Customer-Centricity. Read on to learn more about:

  • Is customer centricity a business strategy or a mindset? Our opinion: when it is done well, it is both.
  • Is it the exclusive domain of Human-Centered Designers? We don’t think so, although it riffs heavily off these practices.
  • Where does Customer Centricity start and marketing end? The two are drawing ever closer together.
  • Does it flourish when executive teams buy into it? Yes, but it performs best when it moves beyond being a ‘top-down’ directive and individuals can take ownership.

As a concept, customer centricity isn’t hard to get your head around. Most of us will bring to mind the idea of keeping the customer at the centre of everything. It is often discussed in the contexts of digital transformation, customer lifetime value and corporate ‘customer culture’. Bringing customer centricity to life, however, seems to be a sticking point for many businesses. 

With 70% of customers basing their purchasing decision on how they feel they are being treated by a brand (McKinsey), customer centricity is clearly important for businesses. If there is a question to ask to determine your organisation’s status quo, it is: How “close” do your employees feel to your customers? 

Business strategy or a mindset? 

When it is done well, customer centricity is both. To set an organisation up for success, customer centricity needs to be planned for, talked about and resourced. Like anything strategic, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. Many would argue however that the horse (mindset) needs to come before the cart (tools and processes). A truly customer centric organisational culture is one where each person aligns themselves with providing a great customer experience. This flows from strategic goals down to the day-to-day ‘business as usual’.

Is it a design discipline?

If you talk to human-centred designers, they will gravitate toward the idea of what we call structural customer centricity. This relates to how a company’s systems and processes are designed. If they were built with the customer’s needs in mind, then that is a structural customer centricity. This is often called customer experience (CX). From a customer’s perspective, CX pervades their every interaction with that brand. Watch our webinar “Customer Experience Unpacked” to learn more.

Is it a new lens through which to view Digital Marketing?

If you speak to a marketer, however, they will likely focus on understanding their customers, gauging their lifetime value to the company, and making the buying process as frictionless as possible. Customers want to be understood as more than an email address or part of an audience segment. The ability to know where a customer is at in their journey with your brand allows you to deliver the goods: the right message at the right time in the right way. This is another example of structural customer-centricity. Check out our recent blog ‘3 practical steps for driving CX success as a Digital Marketer’.

Is it the domain of frontline staff?

To put forward another interpretation, if you are a frontline staff member who speaks to customers, you will focus on the idea of being personally customer centric. This relates to what you personally can do to put your customer’s needs first. Customer-facing teams also have an important role to play when it comes to the way information flows through a business. They hear it all first hand: what are customers thinking, which competitors are they assessing you against and what are their pain points.

Should it be an executive-led culture change?

Customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable compared to those that are not focused on the customer (Deloitte and Touche). With such potential gain to the bottom line, it’s no surprise that executive teams are leaning in to customer centricity. When redefining any element of corporate culture, it pays to ensure that the leadership is behind it and lead by example.

How We See It

When customer centricity really starts to pay dividends for a business is when it is adopted organisation-wide. Executive leadership, strategy, design, marketing, customer service and client-facing teams all combine to leave your customer with an impression of your business. Everyone owns it. Customer centricity is as much a top-down initiative as much as it is a bottom-up way of working. And unsurprisingly, things work more smoothly when they are connected by a broader mission.

As always, it comes down to people. Do your teams have the mindset, toolkit and corporate culture needed to live and breathe customer centricity? Do they carve out time to talk about what customer-centricity actually looks like to them? Do they have access to concrete tools for being customer-centric themselves? Giving your people the resources and space they need to practice will help you set a solid foundation from which it’s possible to grow a truly customer-centered business. 

Want to talk about building a more customer-centric way of working? Check out our customer centricity training options and drop us a line.